- ISIS—also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Islamic State, or Daesh—is a Salafi-jihadist militant group that split from al-Qa’ida in June 2014 to establish its self-proclaimed caliphate.
Since ISIS’s territorial peak in 2015, the group has lost approximately
98 percent of its land holdings in Iraq and Syria, including Raqqa, its self-proclaimed capital, and Mosul, its largest conquered city. Although ISIS’s primary areas of operations are Iraq and Syria, the group has expanded operations to 15 countries, with its strongest affiliates in Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Last year, ISIS propaganda dissemination decreased over 65 percent from its peak output in 2015. In 2017, multiple ISIS leaders were killed, including Abu Sulayman al-Shami, founder and editor of Rumiyah, and Abu Sulayman al-Iraqi, a senior propaganda official.
Threat to New Jersey: Moderate
The terror threat from ISIS to New Jersey is moderate due to the group’s ability to inspire individuals to conduct attacks in the State and surrounding region on behalf of the organization. Since 2015, there have been nine ISIS-inspired attacks by homegrown violent extremists in the tri-state area.
• On December 11, Akayed Ullah detonated an improvised explosive device in a New York City subway corridor near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, injuring two. Ullah claimed he conducted the attack in the name of ISIS.
• On October 31, New Jersey resident Sayfullo Saipov (Passaic County) drove a rented truck down a bike path in lower Manhattan, killing eight and injuring 11. Authorities found a note claiming “ISIS Lives Forever” in the truck.
• On February 21, 2017, authorities arrested Gregory Lepsky in Point Pleasant Borough (Ocean County) for plotting to build a pressure-cooker bomb and detonate it in New York City in support of ISIS. Lepsky also planned to kill his mother and praised ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Following his arrest, officers found several books on jihad and suicide bombing. They discovered he read articles on how to make a pressure-cooker bomb, including “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” published in al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) English-language magazine, Inspire. In March 2018, Lepsky pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
United States Nexus
ISIS will continue to pose a threat to the United States because of its official and sympathizer-produced propaganda targeting US locations, its use of American fighters to encourage attacks, and its attempts to take credit for high-profile events to remain relevant.
On December 29, ISIS released an official video reiterating its calls for attacks globally and encouraging individuals who cannot travel to Iraq or Syria to conduct “jihad” in their homelands. ISIS supporters furthered this message through a propaganda campaign aimed to inspire attacks in the West, specifically calling for the targeting of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
In May, New Jersey native Zulfi Hoxha of Atlantic County—also known as Abu Hamza al-Amriki [the American]—was featured in an ISIS propaganda video calling for attacks in the United States. According to media reports, he is now a senior commander within the organization. In the video, he states, “A muwahid [supporter] in America, does it not pain you to see your brothers with the honor to be violated and their bodies having been torn into pieces by American airstrikes … are you incapable of stabbing a kafir [non-believer] with a knife, throwing him off of a building or running him over with a car? Liberate yourself from hellfire by killing a kafir.”
Over the last year, ISIS has attempted to claim credit for attacks across the West that the group did not commit, including the October mass shooting in Las Vegas, where Stephen Paddock killed 58 and injured 546. Although ISIS official propaganda channels and sympathizers continue to assert that ISIS was responsible for this attack, to date, the FBI has found no links to the terrorist organization.